Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Being Detail-Oriented Helps In A Bureaucracy

There was some travel time over the holidays which meant that if I planned rightly, I would have about an hour and a half to whittle away while sitting in the Raleigh airport. That came to pass so I opened up my Peace Corps folder (a very full-of-papers folder mind you) to go over details of my medical evaluation papers. I am still on the hook to have those completed and returned to the Peace Corps Medical Offices. As I am leafing through the paper and the essay question that I must fill out, I come across the form that explains how to receive reimbursement for office visits required to complete all the medical forms. It is a three or four page packet and I recall seeing it many times, however for some reason I always read the front page, not the page or two after it.

That was a mistake.

I had to have a clearance for three other items that I highlighted on my application with my current doctor and while I remember seeing these a long while ago, I had forgotten that they appeared after the initial reimbursement cover page of the packet.

I need to set up another appointment with my doctor to have her answer three questions which I am hoping she can fill out, as two of them are more geared towards a specialist or three that I visit. I'm sure she will be happy to see me again for the third or fourth time.

No one's fault save my own but I think it highlights the process nicely: read everything three times and then double-check those documents two more times to be certain you have everything.

Here's to hoping that January 2009 I can put all this material together and get it right on the first try!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Possible Change Here In Content

It has been quite some time since I have posted last here. Needless to say, I was quite happy with the outcome of the most recent election at the national as well as the state level. Now begins Obama's opportunity to reshape policy and direct national efforts in a liberal manner. I will hold judgement on his military endeavors until his administration actually makes decisions.

But, for the changing of content here.

Political posts are still in the offing, and there are numerous stories that merit comment on now and in the future without question. Governor Blagojevich's deeds being a prime example of current events.

Instead I will also detail a new path in my own life and career here as well. I work in the web sphere and have been doing so for a decade now. A few months ago I sought out to change that a bit and ended up applying for the Peace Corps. Through July into September I pulled together the various pieces of my application and submitted my essays, resume, history, and all relevant facts of my life that might be of interest. With a great deal of support from my friends and family, I put in my application. By October I was interviewed (more essays preceded the interview) in a town close by, and then near November 1st I learned that I had a nomination for a position. After putting in the time to get the application started and finished, the nomination part happened astoundingly quick.

As early as July 2009 I may be taking leave of the United States and land near Sub-Saharan Africa to take on a position helping in the IT sector in a country where I don't know the language nor the customs. I am extremely excited at the prospect to put it lightly. For a long while I have felt a lost sense of what I am here to do during my tenure in this world. This has been the first thing that I have felt a deep, gravitational-like pull to do something larger than myself.

Below is the essay I completed that answered the question, "Why do you want to join Peace Corps?" 
"It was two in the morning and I couldn’t shake the idea from my head. I lay wide awake thinking about changing my life and becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. It was a powerful thought that grew and took hold of my imagination - becoming immersed in a different culture, working to help others, and gaining the insight of what life is like elsewhere in the world. For the past year I have known that my life needed to change but I never knew it would lead me to this point.

In early 2007 I met a wonderful friend who shared her experience of joining Peace Corps and her time in a small village in Niger. The stories fascinated me and I asked many questions about the culture, the people, the work, the positives and the negatives of being there. Something about the world fascinates me intensely and before I knew it I wanted to know more about this country in Africa and its people. To this day I still pause to read articles online that have even a passing reference to Niger.

With the seed of service planted in my mind I came across this quote by Daniel Dennett: “Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.” My professional work in the information technology field puts me in touch with a number of people whom I assist in many different ways. However the idea of helping people truly in need of technology in some far off place on the globe energizes me in a way that is beyond the way I feel in my current position. It is as if I made the connection between what I am doing and something more important than me: being of service to my country and to the world in a significant way.

For as long as I can remember the world outside my own intrigues me, but I have not found a way to connect that interest to a path in my life. Politics and political history provided the initial step in learning about people beyond the borders of the United States. This was followed by religious and cultural questions centering on what others believed and adhered to around the world and through recorded history. I feel my horizon opening up wider and wider.

Which brings me to the present. That yearning to be of service and to change the world coupled with a greater understanding of life on this earth matches perfectly with the ideals that the Peace Corps embodies. My intention is to lead efforts that build on the intuitive and creative minds already present in a foreign land. The culmination of this is to bring back these experiences and leadership skills and affect change in my own community. Mohandas Gandhi put it best: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.“ This is the perfect summation of why I desire to join the Peace Corps."
As more updates come in I will be sure to add to this web log. For the time being, my nomination is on hold in a technical sense until I can get my full medical evaluation complete. I have had some appointments that could only be made into January of 2009, so it will be some time before I can get the last of my qualifications completed and returned to the Peace Corps.

More updates to come.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why My Vote Went To Senator Obama

I voted last week by absentee ballot. I will be traveling home on the day of the election and there was no other means for me to get to the polls aside from voting early, so my right to suffrage has been exercised, and my ballot had Obama's name clearly marked. Our state happens to run elections on the scantron system so there is a sheet of paper marked with black ink - no confusion on who one votes for.

So why did I vote for a one-term Senator? The choice was not very difficult at all.

Barack Obama has shown throughout his long campaign for the nomination and for the office of President that he has the capacity to think through situations and issues, to base his decisions based on clear input from advisors and to stand on liberal principles.  While some stances he has taken I do not entirely agree with (his siding with Georgia over Russia when the issue was a bit more complex than a right and wrong position, and his notion that Afghanistan only needs thousands of more troops to bend to our nation's will), his temperament suits me as quite superb for the office.

I also look at what the possibilities will be with each candidate and I note that which ever team gets to the critical 270 electoral college votes, they will face a Congress that is decidedly Democratic. How will the President work with and enable passage of key parts of their plan? For Sen. Obama, this looks quite promising for various proposals, including the tax increase on the upper bounds of income-earners in America which may put the smallest little scratch in the United States deficit splurging budget. Health care proposals may come closer to universal coverage with a Democratic Congress and President (though Sen. Obama's plan does not call for universal federally-funded coverage, it may be an opportunity that comes during an Obama administration).  In short, his priorities on the domestic front appeal to me, and I could even forgo the tax cut plan for the middle-class if the budget was pinched. I really do not see how every four years the United States can keep cutting various taxes and not eventually pay for this debtor nation policy.

One major plus for Obama's campaign on the international front is a desire to communicate first, act second if necessary. Time and again in the U.S. those in the foreign policy arena feel compelled to lord over many other countries the "superpower" status of our Pentagon behemoth. It happens practically daily. If ever there were a way to make America more isolated, it would be to threaten and cajole foreign countries in the press and in diplomatic relations with bellicose statements about "options being left on the table"; of threatening destruction unless the country in question toes the line. At least there is some glimmer of hope that an Obama presidency would parlay some modest amount of good will internationally into solutions that would work towards our favor rather than directly against our national interest. Iraq can only be seen a worst-case scenario for how not to conduct foreign policy and I believe it would be far less likely to happen under Sen. Obama's tenure then Sen. McCain's.

There are many other things that compelled me to vote for Obama. Personality, leadership quality, oration skills and a magnanimity that pervades his communications one-on-one and in the press. But to further explain why I voted for him, I need only compare his opponent.

While Senator McCain is often portrayed as one who rebels against his party when his principles dictate, I have seen far too much pandering in his campaign to the far right wing, taking stands irreconcilably different from prior stands he has sought and held. President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy were opposed earlier in the decade; now they are embraced by his campaign. Offshore drilling for oil was opposed; now it is acceptable. Scurrilous campaign tricks and tactics were deplored by Senator McCain in 2000; he now uses not only these tactics, but the same outfit that smeared him.

It is also hard to square Sen. McCain's propensity to take incredible personal umbrage at political situations as his history of personal derision and insults to fellow Republicans as well as Democrats clearly attests. There is something worrisome about an individual that can propel the nation to war who sees confrontation in such a personal manner. Indeed, I fear that he sees Iran as something for which battle plans are the only solution available.

There is also the purely political selection of Governor Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate. If adding 10% of your political base was worth that choice, it has to be countered with losing 5% of the more independent minded voters across America who see the nod to the Alaskan as anything but reassuring.

Hence, these and many more reasons put the mark next to Obama's name. As of this writing, it looks like there is a decent chance that he will take the keys to the White House come the 4th of November. I believe the nation will be better off with that outcome.

Friday, August 15, 2008

An American Pot Calling A Kettle Black

Woe to those currently held captive in the fighting taking place through Georgia and South Ossetia, this cannot be a happy time for anyone unsure of what the next hour let alone the next day will bring.

Russia took umbrage at Georgia's flagrant intrusion into the disputed territory of South Ossetia. Its response was to repulse the thinner, weaker Georgian army and then intrude on Georgian territory. Neither side claims any moral high ground here and much like two brothers in the back seat of a car, the response "he started it," doesn't resolve the matter one whit. That blood is being spilled is always the end result is the true tragedy of such events.

Yet here is the United States of America stepping up and calling out Russia with vigor and passion. President Bush has had a great deal to say on this matter of one country invading another, let us see what insights he might have:

"In the years since it's gained independence after the Soviet Union's collapse, Georgia has become a courageous democracy. Its people are making the tough choices that are required of free societies. Since the Rose Revolution in 2003, the Georgian people have held free elections, opened up their economy, and built the foundations of a successful democracy."

Courageous enough to strike upon a bold, utterly catastrophic move of raising the hackles of the Russians in South Ossetia. If I were a native Georgian, I might be seriously mulling other candidates to lead my democratically elected government other then President Saakashvili. That ineptitude might be rewarded in the United States circa 2004, but this is the real world and bad decisions can have terrible consequences for your country.

It may be slightly disingenuous to point out here that Russia also has a democratic process, just one that elects the same person perpetually. Just to be fair here, the current Russian gate keepers aren't that fond of multiple parties.

"With its actions in recent days Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world. Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."

Just a touch hypocritical, no? Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable? Except when a "lone superpower" does it to a country whose military was a ghost of its former self. It appears the one fault of Russia was to not take their grievance to the UN Security Council and then ignore the vote and move ahead with the invasion just the same. President Bush has very little political capital (to use his cliche) here to criticize this exercise. As has been pointed out in numerous articles in print and on the web, President Bush's own policy towards the Hamas victory in January of '06 was to close the door on almost all forms of cooperation with the new Palestinian government and conspire with the leaders of the old Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel to choke the nascent Hamas government. Democracy is bliss, so long as the American rubber stamp officially says "Approved."

So to summarize, President Bush laments that a country (Russia in this instance) would belligerently march into another country and cause harm and damage to said country. That is not how we do things in the 21st century of course. Ignore though that A) Georgia provoked the incident by invading a territory that was not under its sovereign control, B) South Ossetia actually is touching the border of Russia and could be perceived as an actual military threat (unlike a perceived threat, an example of which is a country's theoretical attainment of sophisticated weaponry). 

I don't think Russia is doing itself any favors by remaining in Georgia even if irregular forces were still contesting towns and cities - their point of, "We can punish you and no one is coming to save you," was settled in South Ossetia. With a truce now signed, it would be a benefit for all Russian troops to disengage and find their way back to their side and let the rebuilding begin and possibly hope that such a conflict does not rear its head once more - but that may be hoping for too much.

It is still astounding the hypocrisy of the U.S. government to criticize foreign invasions when it employs and has employed far more bellicose actions on the world stage and completely at the behest of the leader making these criticisms.

Only a few more months though. Of course one of the choices in our contest really sounds like he wants a new Cold War. Invoking a bizarre moment at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania, Senator McCain said, "I speak for every Americans when I say ... we are all Georgians." Can you imagine sending your son or daughter off to fight for God, country, and Tblisi?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What Can You Say?

The deed was done. Yesterday the Senate passed the FISA bill that exculpated the telecommunication companies from complying with the Bush Administrations patently illegal requests to eavesdrop and drag net communications with warrants. The Congress humbly asks the corporations to please not do this again, here are the new rules which nicely round over the oh-so-tough edges of the old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which we negated at our President's request for you. And if you could, we'll be running for election this fall so if you could drop a few dimes into our campaign coffers, well, it'd be much appreciated.

So very sad.

Equally depressing is the major media's coverage of the affair. Rarely will the popular press allude to the entire illegality of what Bush officials did outside of the rule of law. As is mentioned in the original FISA, it is a severe penalty to infringe this law which is the only means of spying on electronic communication when connecting one dot outside of the United States to a dot inside the country. Up to five years imprisonment, up to a ten-thousand dollar fine -- per offense. Did they do it? Yes. Did they admit to this in public? Of course, as they mentioned it many times branding it the 'Terrorist Surveillance Program' when word leaked out. If the public heard any discourse on this matter, it was more then likely that they would hear it couched in terms of "listening to terrorists making phone calls to Afghanistan," rather then an illegal communications sweep.

As it is today, that goes by the wayside. It doesn't matter what it is called, what it was called, as Congress has seen fit to remove civil liability from corrupted corporations involved in the affair, and revise the FISA law to mete out exactly what the President wanted. Do we know the details of this? Of course not, neither did some 70 Senators who voted to sweep this under the rug. Why bother with the nagging details of criminal affairs? What is best is that we put this behind us. The fourth amendment in the Constitution hasn't been updated to current technologies, it may be better to remove it entirely in a few years with an even more compliant and malleable Congress.

What a stain. A Democratic Congress deserves the credit here; the Republicans could only be so giddy to march in almost a near-unanimous fashion (one lone Republican in Congress voted against it in the House, Tim Johnson IL-15) behind this bill. This bill couldn't even come out of a Republican controlled House and Senate in the 109th Congress.

There really are no words to describe this capitulation as Sen. Feingold aptly described it. They just don't do the insult justice.

Friday, July 04, 2008

America Turns 232

A happy 4th of July, 2008, to you America.


There are several things that just don't seem right about the United States. Much like a trash can collecting far too many flies on a hot summer's day, the contents emanate a foul smell as of late. Unfortunately the contents in the rubbish heap have been added to again and again since 2001 under the Bush Administration with a little help from his friends and the public at large.

Guantanamo Bay and the absence of legality and international norms. Warrantless fishing expeditions by the state on American citizens under the guise of security. Countless dead conducted over the course of two major foreign occupations. 

Was this really what distinguished the American experiment from the rest of the world's governments? Was this institution supposed to trundle its way into oblivion on the meat hooks of public passivity and egregious defense department budgets?

I'm incredibly depressed by all of this. It doesn't end with all that flies in the face of Constitutional government either, but those are for another post. It just seems terribly difficult to continue a celebration when this should be a period of mourning, a time when we reflect on how nice it was to have a government Of the People, By the People, and For the People.

This year starts a new tradition: actually reading the Constitution of the United States of America. One more Republican term and the whole document will possibly look, (what was the word so popular in 2001? ah yes) - quaint.

"Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."
- Mark Twain

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Laws Of Civilizations

There continues to be a flood of articles reviewing how damnable the United States treatment has been to detainees of invaded and occupied lands. While these cases are extremely well documented in various press, it never hurts to review some excellent reporting on the subject.

Easing of laws that led to detainee abuse hatched in secret by Tom Lasseter for McClatchy examines who created these protocols for dubious practices and cruel punishment.

It was a few bad apples, however they wore nice suits.
"The quintet of lawyers, who called themselves the “War Council," drafted legal opinions that circumvented the military's code of justice, the federal court system and America's international treaties in order to prevent anyone — from soldiers on the ground to the president — from being held accountable for activities that at other times have been considered war crimes."
Their names are Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William J. Haynes II, John Yoo, and Timothy E. Flanigan. Of these five, only Addington still remains in the Administration serving as Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff. All of these men are implicated by memorandums and legal opinions of setting up a rogue system of international justice where protections which the U.S. Armed Forces takes for granted for itself on the battlefield would not apply to anyone culled in Afghanistan and then Iraq.

Quite interestingly enough a Justice Department lawyer, Jack Goldsmith, offered up this reasoning (paraphrased from his book) for many of the legal tacks taken by them:
"The five lawyers saw legal opinions drafted by Yoo and others in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel as a shield ... that would make it hard to convict someone of acting on legal advice from the premier legal office in the administration."
Nothing like covering one's hindquarters as a good start when patriotically fighting the "war" on terror.

Recall as well that these people picked up on the battlefield were the "worst of the worst", demanding such harsh techniques and of course torture to extract information. McClatchy has information on former Guantanamo prisoners/detainees posted to its web site. In five minutes, one can learn a bit more about Aminullah. He is a free man again in Afghanistan after confinement and imprisonment from October 2002 to the middle of 2008. Clearly, there is the point that he was with the Taliban when U.S. forces arrived, but part of his story is that he joined the northern alliance when they swept through his province. Additionally, there is some evidence that he may have been given up to the U.S. based solely on his ethnicity. Clear cut case of Aminullah being a monster, yes?

In the page above the following quote ends the article:
"Asked why the Americans had detained him, Aminullah shook his head and said, 'Only God knows.' "
My guess is that President Bush would have the same answer to that question.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

All The Way To Denver

In a prior post, I had lamented the current system of around-the-clock campaigning for the Presidency due to the primary structure of both political parties. Longing for contentious conventions and multiple ballots and slates of names for the nomination appeared to be exciting and energizing to the process.

It would appear that the Democrats are not far removed from that occurrence which would fulfill my romantic dream of what a convention ought to be. However, that idealized convention was not to be preceded by months and months of speeches, campaign ads, fundraising and mud-slinging between the candidates. Alas, that would happen most likely in any event where the primary process was in place or not as each candidate would jockey for position at the convention.

Forgetting the abstract, wished-for state, the current tangle that Senators Clinton and Obama face now has compelled commentators to suggest that it is ruining the party's chances in November. That might be a possibility but given the attitudes of most Democrats to Independents, they are not eagerly awaiting a Republican candidate to sweep them off their electoral feet. What could be more poisonous is a convention that switches the public's choice. For all the effort placed into the primary system to let voters decide who the best candidate is only to have a convention switch the platter being served up in November could spell disaster.

More of an insult to the process were the states of Michigan and Florida moving up their primary to make their delegations more important to the convention under the presumption (accurate at the time by most who would make a prediction about such things) that the nominations would be sewn up by the time the candidates arrived in their respective states to campaign based on prior election years. The Democratic Party issued the ultimatum that it would not accept either delegation if it continued on the early path and followed through on that threat. It may be likely that Sen. Clinton would have won both states by a margin of 5% or so given her record so far in larger states but that is not a certainty. To be sure, she ran against no other opponent and left her name on the ballot purposely which had the Obama campaign actively ask voters to select "none of the above" on their ballots. Clinton's counting of these states is a smokescreen of support for her candidacy. Just the same, it happened and is part of the issue.

What is slightly odd on this is that the last primary is June 3rd of Montana and South Dakota. That will wrap up all the pledged delegates to the convention. Terry McAuliffe was quoted by David Corn that they would be fighting for the nomination all the way to "June 15th." Of course the Clinton campaign manager would confidently say that his candidate would be the winner by then, but waiting 12 days after the final primary election leaves a lot of wiggling on the super delegate front. Curious to see what their campaign might do during that period.

Denver could be a fun spot to be in come the end of August.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Telcom Companies Have Earned Their Right To Privacy

There are only so many descriptors that can be used regarding the Senate's capitulation to the Administration's request for telecommunication companies' immunity before redundancy sets in - the words lose their meaning against the face of the audacity of the crime. The adjectives become hollow. The cynicism just becomes a granted and mundane part of the cycle.

For the time being the denouement comes from the Senate, approving of retroactive immunity handed over to the telecommunication corporations who knowingly violated the law at the behest of the Bush security apparatus.

For background, be certain to watch the Frontline documentary on the subject of warrantless eavesdropping by the United States government. Titled, "Spying On The Homefront," written by Hendrick Smith and Rick Young, it exposes what was known about the program first reported on by the New York Times regarding the cooperation between the Administration and several of America's largest telecommunication companies. A tragedy for sure, corporations who were expressly forbidden from turning over customer data as written in U.S. law gave away as much information as was asked for in an apparent bid to curry favor for future government largess.

The Senate passed their amnesty program on the 12th of February. The House blocked the passage of its version of the bill and by Friday the "Protect America Act" went by the way-side. There is no reason to believe however that at a later date the Democrats in the House won't pass a bill that looks remarkably similar to the craven, cave-in Senate version when they return from a one week break, however it was a moment of partial resistance to the dread and doom peddling of President Bush and his proxies in Congress.

To whit: Something quickly picked up on by commentators and some news outlets alike was President Bush's own veto threat against a 21 day extension of the bill from the House. We were under such a grave an ominous threat (no, Bush was not talking as a press spokesman from lawsuit-fearing telecommunications companies) from terrorists, that he would go so far as to veto any extension of the law to keep the status quo working. Status quo here means the illegal gathering of data as outlawed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. So the President chides Congress by not adopting his wished-for-legislation that he felt obliged to veto had it come to him with one small string attached.

Then what did he really need from Congress? Immunity for possible law-breaking by corporations. Congress could have bent over so that their collective craniums were behind their ankles to deliver a renewal of the Protect America Act but that wasn't even remotely close to the issue - it was the telecommunication industry blanket immunity that was/is needed by the Bush Administration.

What is glaringly obvious is that the Administration had been caught as red-handed as one can be caught, and needs a very precise legal instrument to cover up the tracks. Broad immunity for illegally spying on citizens without suspicion of wrong doing.

It never hurts to read up on our Constitution (and the Bill of Rights) at times like these.
Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

[italics by this writer]

In the link above to the Frontline documentary, a brief exchange is included of the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez being pressed on whether there were any other programs being conducted during this time. Sen. Feinstein's direct question, "Has the President ever invoked this authority with respect to any activity other than the program we are discussing, the NSA Surveillance Program," to which AG Gonzalez responded, "Senator, I am not comfortable going down the road of saying 'yes' or 'no' as to what the President has or has not authorized." If there are other programs or spying techniques being used, they are not to be talked about in an open Senate hearing, this is for certain.

For the next year at least no one can be absolutely certain that Big Brother isn't watching, listening, or sifting through one's house, papers, or effects (and that would include one's communications).

Welcome to the police state. Hold your number up and look straight at the camera please. Now to the left. Thank you.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Force Increases One Year Later

For just the briefest of moments there was general reflection by the media one year after the President's announcement that there would be an increase in troop levels inside of Iraq. The review of progress, the history of the surge in combat forces operating inside and outside of Baghdad, the numbers of murdered and bombings, in short a 90 second review of 12 months within the borders of Iraq.

Overall most coverage now has the positive outlook of what the increase has done for the country. Indicators were done in the second half of the year for the typical violence, and that was directly connected by the media to the boots on the ground.

Usually within the last 10 to 15 seconds however, the reporter or anchor would somberly note that the political progress that was hoped for with this escalation would follow, but has yet clearly developed. Cue next segment.

"In other news, the economy here in the U.S. is faltering and worries of a recession loom ..."

Last year at about this time I made mention of what I expected to be the result of the escalation -- more violence, at least at the outset. While that was true for the first few months, violent death and explosions did curtail through the summer months into the fall. I ended with this quote:
Some or maybe all of these instances may never come to fruition but this is the glum prediction of Iraq, and history has shown that the more dire prognostications have come true more often than the rosy ones. The Administration has constantly relied on brute force to fix Iraq, and there are few if any tangible results from said policies. The rhetoric of the President is fixed on success, but the jargon of his policy is set on destruction.

Breaking Baghdad even further is not the solution.
From the reports that came throughout 2007, it appeared that one could break Baghdad further; right along sectarian lines in fact, neighborhood by neighborhood. The city now sees less violence and more partition walls which has affected security. Yet is the country better off for the past year? Does a segregated city mean progress?

From recent citations through conservative organs, it is oft-reported that things have finally settled down and that the aggressive invasion of a foreign country followed by years of occupation are paying off and thereby vindicating the rationale for the adventure in Iraq.


The daily death toll is still the daily death toll out of Iraq. US troops continue dying (with a recent up-tick in the early part of January 2008) and Iraqis are still seeing bodies turn up in the morning on the streets, though not in the sheer volume that they were as in the beginning of 2007. Additionally, the Iraqi government is no closer to negotiating their problems away through major legislative efforts.

Bringing this to light was a post at TomDispatch.com by Tom Engelhardt reviewing some of the more trying points of much of the success talk from the right. Titled "Tomgram: CSI Iraq", Engelhardt reviews the situation in Iraq and the sight is not pretty. Throughout most of his article, he reiterates that the talk of success fills the void of what America must do next in the occupation of a foreign country. This technique is the equivalent of buying time; to make sure that the problem is not one of the Bush Administration's closing tasks but the grand opening headache of the next Administration.

At one point, the surge was begot to enable political reconciliation. That phase of the surge is essentially stillborn after six solid months of inaction on the part of the Iraqi Parliament (notwithstanding the one law passed recently allowing some ex-Baath party members to return to government positions -- provided any existed for them at this point). The city of Kirkuk, with its Sunni and Turk minorities, is just as in flux as it was in 2006 with the added gem of a Turkish government on the edge of its border waiting for any excuse to send in more combat missions into Kurdish-held northern Iraq to fight the militant groups of the PKK. If anything, the success-in-Iraq crowd tend to grudgingly allude to the failure in terms of political stability needed. For now.

Another fine article describing how well things aren't going in Iraq comes from Andrew J. Bacevich of the Washington Post. In "Surge to Nowhere," Bacevich reviews much of the same evidence for concluding that things in Iraq are not going well, but reserves much of the venom for those commentators who have rushed to parade "success" on as many news cycles as possible. From his article:
"Look beyond the spin, the wishful thinking, the intellectual bullying and the myth-making. The real legacy of the surge is that it will enable Bush to bequeath the Iraq war to his successor -- no doubt cause for celebration at AEI [American Enterprise Institute], although perhaps less so for the families of U.S. troops. Yet the stubborn insistence that the war must continue also ensures that Bush's successor will, upon taking office, discover that the post-9/11 United States is strategically adrift. Washington no longer has a coherent approach to dealing with Islamic radicalism. Certainly, the next president will not find in Iraq a useful template to be applied in Iran or Syria or Pakistan."
With the expense of occupying Afghanistan and Iraq running between two and three billion dollars a week, it is a curious suggestion indeed what the U.S. can learn from President Bush's war. In order to stop a dictator from using weapons which he never had in the first place, George W. Bush will have placed trillions of I.O.U.s into the coffers for our grandchildren to pay later, and destabilized a region not known for stability in the first place which the country relies on for a hefty dollop of its foreign oil.

Least of which we should note the hundreds of thousands of lives terminated in the bargain. A tragedy, each and every one.

We witness the end of an empire. Good riddance.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Fighting For The Nomination

With the Iowa caucuses over and the New Hampshire contest shortly around the corner, there appears to be little concern to the process itself and what it has done to the political process of selecting the best candidate to represent the banners of each political party.

What it was over 150 years ago was a system of political control by party bosses at the local and / or regional level. The conventions held by the parties would actually determine who the candidate was at times, and at certain points in history would yield most excellent candidates (Abraham Lincoln) and not so excellent candidates (James Buchanan). The campaign was typically shorter, and depending on the most popular political names of the era, candidates themselves would rarely participate in open campaigning.

Today, quite the opposite case is apparent. John Edwards on the Democratic side had been planting campaign seeds and organizational roots across Iowa since his departure from the Senate in 2005. Governor Romney has been active since 2006 when Giuliani was still ahead in Iowa, and paid quite a sum to win a straw poll in August. What America has now is a campaign season that begins roughly two to three years in advance of the actual election.

Further, the campaign season of the primaries is becoming a contest amongst the states to be "more important" and nab the spotlight and monetary boon that is the early voting states. Iowa will not be denied going first, New Hampshire will not be denied being the first voting primary. Crowding into second are large states with huge delegations to send to the conventions, including states such as Florida and Michigan who jumped ahead against the behest of their own parties to vote at later dates. It is unlikely that those delegates will be seated come summer 2008 in the Democratic side, but it remains for a lawsuit to decide. Come 2011 or earlier, might it be possible that 10 or 12 states will vie for 3rd in the nation polling days?

In essence, the U.S. will have two candidates for the Presidency decided some time before March, with months and months to fight it out across a handful of closely contested battleground states. This observation comes before New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides if he will launch his own independent bid for the office.

What are the positives of an election campaign that lasts in excess of two years for an office with a term of only four? At what point is the system a detriment to the process of electing a president? Having a candidate lock up the nomination in two or three weeks time is almost akin to the old days of party bosses deigning one man over another to become the nominee in the proverbial smoke-filled back room. It is quick, and an extraordinary slice of the voting public has practically no say.

The one identifiable positive may well be that a relative unknown can work the ground campaign in a small region such as Iowa or New Hampshire and become a force in the election (President Carter had a similar run in 1976) and thwart the idea that only national figures or those with overly large war chests need apply. Even so, the individual that breaks through may still not be the most qualified candidate on the ballot among his or her party, let alone on the final national ticket.

I guess my proclivity runs towards the path of adding excitement back to the nominating convention. By not having a nominee, each party wrangles amongst themselves about who will be the best candidate, duke it out, have multiple votes, and charge out of the convention with a nominee and a campaign.

Of course this is more of a wish as the reality of a 24-hour news system means constant talk about who is ahead, behind, and in the middle of the race of races. With that as a backdrop, it is not a surprise that a campaign that lasts years is only there to feed the media beast so-to-speak.

Once the new President takes the oath of office, there will again be eyes back on who is visiting Iowa to stake out their very first campaign office in January 2009.